I was recently reading about potato waffles in Culinaire Saisonnier, and it sounded to me like an original, yet also forehead-slappingly obvious, alternative to potato pancakes. I started to picture a decadent waffle oozing with caviar, though down-to-earth material considerations soon had me downgrading to salmon roe. I wanted to transform the idea into a recipe quickly, instead of putting it in my to-do queue where it might have sat for years. This is also a good recipe for Valentine’s Day, your last big excuse to overindulge until next fall’s holiday season!
Back in early December, I went to Lake Ontario for my first duck hunt with Outdoorsman Bill. This may sound like a long trip for a few small birds. After all, there are dozens of Canada geese pooping all over the lawns as nearby as Westchester. Lake Ontario, however, sees a lot of waterfowl species, and in larger amounts. Plus, shotguns aren’t allowed in Westchester (believe me, I checked). Anyway, back to Bill. Not content just hunting ducks, Bill runs a small fleet of charter boats, guides on hard water, and owns a lodge across the marina. If you’re looking for him at the inn’s restaurant, the bartender will point at the live band. While most of the other hunters are sleeping off a long day outdoors before waking up at 4 am to do it again the next day, Bill plays live music at night.
The idea for this recipe came to me last weekend, when I went hunting for wild turkey, and came home with three brook trout. The spring turkey hunt with Wayne was rather tricky this year: the gobblers didn’t gobble, and the ones we saw didn’t show much interest in our languorous hen calls. Having read an article in New York Game and Fish about trout fishing in Ninemile Creek, I decided to try my luck there while I was in the area. What I didn’t know is that Wayne happens to be friends with one Mike Kelly, who A) wrote the article I read, B) has been fishing Ninemile Creek for most of his life, and C) was generous enough to spend his Saturday afternoon showing me around with his friend Paul, despite having already hunted turkey and caught his limit of trout earlier the same day!
So, while I wasn’t completely successful in my little cast-and-blast trip, I thought it would still be interesting to create a Syracusan sportsman’s perfect May appetizer, a recipe that would highlight the delicate flavors of both trout and turkey, and at the same time showcase some spring produce.
This curious dish — which has very little to do with actual cheese — was actually what first motivated me to start my Latvian Hare Trio. The final result may look like a traditional pâté, but the preparation is quite different. Lesley Chamberlain’s Food and Cooking of Russia and Pokhlebkin’s Cookbook of the Soviet Peoples both contain fairly similar instructions: take a hare, roast it, braise it, grind it, then cook an omelette, grind it, and mix everything together with mushrooms and butter before baking in a dish, optionally wrapped in pastry.
I found that the result of this procedure had an unpleasantly dry mouthfeel, so I made several changes to improve it. In particular, cooking the leg meat as a confit was a big improvement, and it made little sense to use the precious hare loins. I also got rid of the bizarre ground omelette and used raw eggs to bind the forcemeat like a normal person. Finally, the onion jam and cornichons bring welcome touches of sweetness and acidity.
Kutabs are among the most popular Azeri dishes, together with plov, dolma, and of course kebabs (kebabs being a distant first: virtually the only meal you’ll ever eat in a restaurant outside of Baku). A kutab — not to be confused with kutap — is essentially a lavash filled with savory stuffing while still raw, then folded in half and pan-fried. It is often served with a sprinkling of sumac on top, a red spice which imparts a lemony note.
The most common kutab fillings are ground lamb and greens, with the occasional cheese or winter squash, but you can pretty much do whatever you want, as long as the layer of stuffing remains quite thin. In addition to the four above-mentioned classics, all of which I’m presenting here with some personal tweaks, I’ve also created two new “signature” kutabs.
My first new kutab uses foie gras and pomegranate in a nod to all the Brooklyn restaurants that feature the fattened duck liver on their menus for no apparent reason other than it’s expensive and French. Baku Palace serves kutabs and foie gras as separate dishes, so why not put them together?
The second contains actual duck meat. I recently posted a duck breast kebab, and now you can use the legs (and the wings if you’d like) to make a kutab. Then you’ve got the whole bird turned into an Azeri dinner for 4!
This recipe is inspired by the crab salad I ate at Baku Palace in Sheepshead Bay a few weeks ago (my restaurant review will come soon, but for now the place is still without power since Hurricane Sandy). The original recipe was terribly deceptive, as the dish, priced at $20 for two people, consisted of julienned cucumber, ground walnut, and… surimi.
So, in order to get rid of the feeling of being cheated, I figured I’d do my own version at home, for about the same price but with real king crab. I added a couple of elements to the recipe and I’m serving it on toasted bread, but the spirit remains the same. Compared to many other posts on my blog, this is surprisingly quick and easy to make. And still delicious!
Pirozhki are Russian buns, usually individual-sized and baked. As with varenyky, you can fill them with pretty much anything you want — in fact, you could even use the exact same fillings for pirozhki and varenyky. It’s not rare, however, to find more diverse recipes, some of then even in classic French cookbooks. Escoffier’s Guide Culinaire, for example, counts a dozen variations called piroguis (not to be confused with Polish pierogi), and the Larousse Gastronomique has a few similar pirojkis, many of which take some serious culinary license with the real deal.
But first, is it varenyky or vareniki? Well, it depends. The Russian word, вареники, should be transliterated as vareniki. But since this is in fact a Ukrainian dish, it makes sense to transliterate the Ukrainian word instead. And the Ukrainian word is… вареники. Even if you can’t read Cyrillic, you probably noticed the two are spelled the same. But they’re not pronounced the same. The Ukrainian и is similar to the Russian ы, hence the transliteration with y’s. Big deal.
After my recent complaints about the lack of originality of Onegin‘s salad Olivier, I figured I would bring my humble contribution to this Russian salad’s already extensive literature.
Salad Olivier can contain many ingredients, but it is at its core a potato salad with a variety of vegetables and proteins, bound by mayonnaise. It was invented in the second half of the 19th century by Chef Lucien Oliver at the restaurant Hermitage in Moscow. Although the recipe was secret, there are many versions circulating, with possible seasonal variations. Here’s one from the site of the School of Russian and Asian Studies:
Olivier Salad (“Tsarist” version)
This early recipe for Olivier salad, prepared during the height of the Hermitage restaurant’s
popularity (this recipe was written out in 1904, according to the description of one of the
restaurant’s frequent customers):
1 boiled veal tongue
Approx 100 grams of black caviar
200 grams of fresh lettuce leaves
25 boiled crayfish or one large lobster
200-250 grams of small gherkins
Half a can of “soy kabul” (soy paste)
2 thinly sliced fresh cucumbers
100 grams of capers
5 finely chopped hard-boiled eggs
- Provencal Sauce: beat 400 grams of olive oil with two egg yolks until light and smooth, then add French vinegar and mustard
- Chop up all the ingredients into small cubes. Mix in the Provencal Sauce.
In A Gift to Young Housewives, Elena Molokhovets gives a very vague recipe:
Take various cooked meats: game of wild fowl; veal or beef; or boiled fish such as sturgeon,
pike or salmon.
There follows a long procession of ingredients, from cucumbers to sauerkraut, mixed with diced potatoes in a mustard sauce. This may be a lot of ingredients for a single salad, but a) that was true about the original, too, and b) the refinement was still there.
Then things started to go downhill for Mr. Olivier’s signature dish. As it transitioned from decadent high-end restaurant dish to housewives’ meal, ingredients were drastically simplified. Limited ingredient availability in the Soviet Union would go on to further aggravated the matter, turning the salad into an assembly of mostly factory-produced food items. Here’s another recipe from the site of the School of Russian and Asian Studies:
Olivier Salad (“Soviet” version)
Potatoes (boiled and peeled)
Canned green peas
- Chop up all the ingredients into small cubes. Mix in mayonnaise. Add fresh dill, salt and pepper to taste, if desired.
I have to wonder what’s the scariest thing in this recipe: the canned peas that traumatized generations of children, the mystery meat bologna, or the fact that all ingredients, mayonnaise included, are used in equal amounts!
So! I wanted to create a recipe for special occasions that restored some of the splendor of the original, but without combining as many flavors. A lot of the original elements have been preserved: a full-flavored bird (a whole duck), some seafood (my favorite king crab legs), a mayo made with mustard and olive oil, and of course diced potatoes. The proportions are well balanced so that you can taste each of them. Looking back at the result now, I’m thinking I could push the envelope a little bit more by adding sautéed cubes of foie gras…
While there are a lot of steps in this recipe, each of them is easy. Since I’m using a whole duck, chances are you will not get the exact amounts of breast, legs and thighs specified below, which is fine. You can prepare the duck confit one or two days ahead, but I would try to time the breast to finish cooking just a bit before service. The rest of the salad can be assembled a few hours beforehand. The smoked salt I’m using is the Yakima applewood smoked salt by Artisan Salt Co.
Yields 6 servings + rendered fat and stock
1 duck, about 6 lb
- Separate the wings and legs from the carcass, and reserve. Cut the breast from the carcass, trim the extra fat, and reserve.
- You can render the extra duck fat and freeze it, and use the carcass and the neck to make duck stock.
Yields 6 servings
duck legs and wings (about 2 lb)
0.5 % curing salt
1.5 % smoked salt
0.25 % fennel pollen
0.5 g black pepper
1 thinly sliced garlic clove
- Weigh the duck legs and wings, and measure the above percentages of that weight in curing salt, smoked salt, and fennel pollen. (The amount of black pepper is so small that it is more practical to measure it in grams.) Season the meat with the curing salt, smoked salt, fennel pollen, and black pepper. Place into sous-vide pouches with the garlic, and cook in a water bath at 171 F for 12 hours.
- Let cool, then remove the skin and bones. Transfer the meat to a plastic container, add a couple tablespoons of liquid from the sous-vide pouches, and refrigerate.
Yields 6 servings
duck breast (about 1 1/4 lb)
1.5 % smoked salt
black pepper, ground
1 1/2 oz red wine
4 oz duck skin
- Weigh the duck breast, and measure the above percentage of that weight in smoked salt. Cut a cross-hatch pattern on the skin of the duck breast, and sear in a very hot pan, skin side down, until brown and crispy. Remove from the pan, season with the smoked salt and black pepper, and place into a sous-vide pouch with the red wine and duck skin. Cook in a water bath at 136 F for 3 hours.
- Let cool to room temperature and reserve.
King crab fabrication and crab oil
Yields 6 servings + some extra crab oil
2 lb cooked king crab legs, shell on
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp cognac (or Armenian brandy)
12 oz canola oil
- Pick the meat from the crab legs and reserve in the refrigerator.
- Cut the shell into small pieces, and sauté with the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the cognac and light with a match. Add the canola oil, simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, then remove from heat and let steep for another 15 minutes.
- Pass through a chinois, let cool and reserve.
Yields 6 servings
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp mustard
1/4 tsp piment d’espelette
6 oz crab oil
3 oz light olive oil
- In a bowl, mix the egg yolk, mustard, salt, and piment d’espelette with a whisk.
- Add the crab oil followed by the olive oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Refrigerate.
Yields 6 servings
4 1/2 oz frozen green peas
1 1/2 lb peeled Yukon Gold potatoes
6-7 tbsp mayonnaise
king crab meat
- Defrost the green peas in the refrigerator for a few hours.
- Cook the potatoes in cold salted water for about 25 minutes, until done. Drain and let cool to room temperature.
- Cut the potatoes into medium to large dice and adjust the seasoning. In a bowl, mix the potatoes with the peas and mayonnaise. Shred the crab meat and duck confit between your fingers, mix into the salad and refrigerate.
Yields 6 servings
Potato salad, taken out of the refrigerator 30 minutes in advance
6 eggs, hard-boiled and cooled to room temperature
duck breast, room temperature
- Distribute the potato salad between the plates. Quarter the hard-boiled eggs and arrange around the salad.
- Take the duck breast out of the sous-vide pouch, slice on a bias, and fan the slices on top of the salad, pouring a spoonful of cooking liquid on top of the meat on each plate.
- Serve immediately.
With my first deer now in the freezer, I need to come up with recipes for the whole beast. I made a great roast out of the hind leg last weekend (more on this another time), but I had cut off the less tender shank and saved it for another recipe — hence these luscious and distinctive meatballs. Instead of being ground, the meat is first stewed, then wrapped around a cube of foie gras, and then breaded. Thinking about it, this recipe combines three Hungarian traditions: hunting, foie gras, and deep-frying. My friends have been facetiously calling them “Hunter’s Balls”!
I served them with a slightly sweet dip made of crème fraîche mixed with onion jam.
Braised deer shanks
Yields about 20 meatballs
2 lb deer shanks, bone in
black pepper, ground
4 oz peeled carrot, large dice
4 oz peeled onion, large dice
4 oz peeled parsnip, large dice
2 oz celery, large dice
1 peeled garlic clove
16 oz red wine
24 oz water
4 thyme sprigs
1 tsp cacao powder
2 oz butter
- Season the deer shanks generously with salt and pepper, then sauté in an oven-proof pot with olive oil over high heat, until brown on all sides. Add the carrot, onion, parsnip, celery, and garlic, and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Add the red wine, bring to a boil, simmer for 2-3 minutes, then add the water and the thyme. Bring back to a boil, cover with a lid ajar, and cook in a 200 F oven for about 4 hours, until very tender.
- Let cool for 30 minutes. Take out the shanks and reserve. Strain the cooking liquid, and reduce to 8 oz in a saucepan over high heat. Shred the meat between your fingers, then finely chop with a knife. Add the meat and the cacao powder to the saucepan, and cook over medium heat until almost completely reduced, stirring regularly. Mix in the butter, and continue cooking until there is no more liquid, but without drying out the meat. Let cool and refrigerate.
Yields enough breadcrumbs for about 20 meatballs
6 oz Pullman bread, sliced
- Place the bread slices on a baking sheet on the oven rack, and toast at 300 F for 10 minutes on each side.
- Break the slices into pieces, and pulverize in a blender. Reserve in a closed plastic container.
Deer and foie gras meatballs
Yields about 20 meatballs
5 oz foie gras
braised deer shanks
about 3 oz flour
2 eggs, beaten
canola oil for the deep-fryer
- Cut the foie gras into approximately 20 cubes. Take a small amount of the deer shank mixture and flatten it. Place a cube of foie gras in the center, wrap it in the meat, and shape into a ball between the palms of your hands. You should use just enough meat to completely cover the foie gras. Repeat until you run out of meat or foie gras. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- Place the flour, beaten eggs, and breadcrumbs into 3 separate bowls. Heat the deep-fryer to 360 F. Coat each meatball with flour, then dip into the egg, and thouroughly cover with breadcrumbs.
- Deep-fry the meatballs in small batches for 3-4 minutes, until golden brown on all sides. Let rest on paper towels for a minute, then serve.